Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places - Science & Discovery

Historic England

England's historic sites are hotbeds of invention and creativity that shaped both our nation and the world beyond. This exhibit illustrates just a handful of amazing places linked to scientific innovation and discovery.

Bletchley Park: birthplace of computer science 
Bletchley Park is celebrated for its contribution to the Allied victory in the Second World War and for its contribution to the development of information technology. In 1939 Bletchley Park, a large Victorian house and its grounds, became a home to the Foreign Office's Government Code and Cipher School. It was the focal point of inter-service intelligence activities, and the place where Axis codes (notably those encrypted using the Enigma machine) were deciphered and assessed. It was here that the world's first electronic computer, 'Colossus', was developed.

As the operations at Bletchley expanded, additional facilities were built in the grounds. Firstly wooden huts were constructed, followed later by more permanent blocks of brick, steel and concrete.

It has been estimated that the work undertaken at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years. Codebreaking at Bletchley came to an end in 1946.

Jenner's Hut: where a discovery saved millions of lives
This rustic hut is situated in the garden of The Chantry, the home and death-place of Dr Edward Jenner (1749-1823), discoverer of vaccination. It was here that Jenner conducted his first vaccination against smallpox in 1796. The disease was devastating. In Jenner's time it was responsible for around ten to twenty per cent of all deaths, killing around thirty per cent of those who contracted it. Following eradication campaigns in the 20th century, the World Health Assembly officially declared the world free of smallpox on 8 May 1980.

Jenner was intrigued by local lore that claimed those who contracted cowpox could not catch smallpox.

In 1796 Jenner tested this theory on his gardener's eight-year-old son, deliberately infecting the boy with cowpox and later exposing him to smallpox. This and subsequent tests confirmed his immunity to the disease.

The Jenner Hut is also known as the 'Temple of Vaccinia'.

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich: where the stars were plotted 
The Royal Observatory was Britain's first state-funded scientific institution. Established in 1675, it set out to gather information to aid navigation, timekeeping, cartography and to measure longitude. It was here that the first two Astronomers Royal plotted all the stars visible in the northern and southern hemispheres, where in 1833 the first public time signal was made, and where the Prime Meridian of the world is set.

Built on the site of Greenwich Castle, the Royal Observatory functioned as a working observatory for nearly 300 years.

Over time, a number of buildings were added to the site, to accommodate the Astronomer Royal, and to house scientific instruments and laboratories.

Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire: where an apple fell and changed the universe
This apple tree sits in the orchard of Woolsthorpe Manor House in Lincolnshire. It is believed that it was at this tree that mathematician and natural philosopher Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) observed the fall of an apple, leading to his discovery of the laws of gravity, changing the way we understand the universe. 

Built in the early 17th century as a farmhouse, Woolsthorpe Manor House was the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, on Christmas Day 1642.

An outbreak of plague in 1665 forced Newton to return here from Cambridge University, and it was at Woolsthorpe that much of his theoretical and experimental work was conducted.

The plaque above the doorway bears Newton's arms.

Somerville College, Oxford: where study led to discovery
Named in honour of the mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville (1780-1872), Somerville Hall (later College) was founded in 1879. It accepted women at a time when they were barred from Oxford University. One Somerville alumna was Dorothy Hodgkin (née Crowfoot, 1910-1994), Britain's only female scientist to receive the Nobel Prize. Reading chemistry, Hodgkin researched X-ray crystallography, going on to Cambridge to gain a PhD, before returning to Somerville in 1934 as a research fellow. Through X-ray techniques she was able to determine the structures of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin.

Somerville's first accommodation was a large house, Walton House, built in c1826. This was soon extended and further buildings added to the site.

Pictured here is the College Library. It was built in 1903 to designs by architect Basil Champneys (1842-1935). Champneys is celebrated for several library and college buildings in Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester.

Down House, Bromley: where evolutionary biology was founded
Down House was the home and place of death of naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection' (1859), his major work on the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, was written here. Darwin and his wife Emma moved to Down House in 1842. They made many changes to the house to improve and increase the accommodation, including the addition of a new study and a large bay at the rear of the house. The gardens were also improved, with Darwin constructing experimental beds and a hothouse for his botanical experiments. 

Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

We think everybody should know about the places in England that have witnessed some of the most important historic events.

Historic England's Irreplaceable campaign, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, aims to highlight the places that have changed England and the world.

Image: Charles Darwin, Down House, Downe, Bromley, Greater London
This portrait of Charles Darwin shows him at his home, Down House, in circa 1880.

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